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Krasniqi’s layup propels Eagles past Falcons, 55-51

Wednesday, Feb. 13 | By Peter Brewington
Liberty’s unquestioned star Wednesday was Xavier Colbert, who led his team with 17 points and 17 rebounds. --Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
It should be noted that last second shots aren’t specifically being drawn up for Arber Krasniqi to be the hero.

Liberty’s junior starting forward just happens to be in the right place at the right time and have a dynamic teammate like Xavier Colbert to feed him.

Krasniqi took a pass from Colbert and converted the winning layup with seven seconds left in Wednesday’s 55-51 win over Fauquier in the Evergreen District boys basketball tournament semifinals.

After a Fauquier turnover on the ensuing possession, Krasniqi drilled two clutch free throws to clinch it with 1.8 seconds left, sending the Eagles (12-11) on to face Kettle Run (11-12) in Friday’s district final.

Krasniqi stood with his brother Armend, and mom in the FHS gym in the giddy moments after the win, smiling almost sheepishly about his glorious role. “I’m proud of you, baby,” his mom said to both her sons.

With sharpshooter Aaron Patterson having one of his worst nights of the season and scoring just four points, both Krasniqis came up big.

Relative newcomers to the starting lineup, the 6-foot-2 Arber finished with 10 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, and Armend, a 5-10 junior guard, scored nine, including seven in the second half as the Eagles overcame a 22-19 halftime deficit.

“Obviously (Arber) hit the layup, had the steal and then he hit two free throws. For him to knock those two free throws down, you’ve gotta be proud of that kid,” said Liberty coach Pat Frazer.

Liberty’s unquestioned rock star, however, was Colbert, who led his team with 17 points and 17 rebounds.

With the game tied 51-51 with 15 seconds left, the reigning District Player of the Year took an inbounds pass in the backcourt, roared past two Falcon defenders at midcourt and made a beeline for the basket, where he fed Krasniqi.

Krasniqi, who missed an open layup in a one-point loss to Kettle Run but responded with a game-saving block in a recent win over Fauquier, found himself in the spotlight again. “I saw they double-teamed X. I took my time, no one was on me,” he said.

The win sent the Eagles to the Evergreen District tournament championship game for the fourth time in the league’s four years. Liberty has won every tournament title, beating Fauquier in the 2010 and 2011 finals and Warren County in 2009.

The VHSL's approved playoff changes make future district tournaments extraneous, and this is expected to be the last tournament.

“Friday is going to be lots of fun. We want to win the last tournament championship. Kettle Run had our number this year,” said Liberty's Frazer, whose team lost to Kettle Run twice this year in games they feel they should have won, 52-51 on Jan. 22, and 72-71 in overtime on Feb. 5.

For Fauquier (11-11) losing to Liberty for the third straight time was tough to swallow.

“We always end up playing them at the end of the season and for some reason they get the better of us,” said Falcon guard Caleb Lantz. “Hats off to them.”

Fauquier and Liberty played an astonishing nine times in the last two seasons, with Liberty going 6-3 and winning the three most meaningful encounters, including a tiebreaker for the 2012 regular season title, the 2012 district tournament final, and Wednesday’s district tournament semi.

J.J. Roberts led the Falcons with 14 points, followed by Dillon Tapscott with 13, Jeremiah Blackwell with 11 and Lantz with nine.

C.J. Lindsay was steady for Liberty, scoring 12.

The first half was sloppy and low-scoring, but the second half pace was fast and exciting as the friendly rivals locked in another gripping down-to-the-wire duel.

Liberty led 19-8 midway through the second quarter, but turned stone cold, allowing Fauquier to go on a 17-0 run to lead 25-19 on Tapscott’s 3-pointer to open the third quarter.

Fauquier took a slim 40-39 edge into the fourth quarter, when the lead changed seven times.

Patterson shook off his rough night to tie it at 51-all with a clutch 12-foot floater with 53 seconds left.

The Falcons worked the ball confidently before Tapscott got in the lane then found Roberts for an open 8-footer on the right baseline, but it missed with 30 seconds left.

“He had a good look, he was on balance. He had a solid shot and did not choke up. That’s all you can ask,” said Brizzi.

“I always practice that shot, I don’t know how I missed,” said Roberts.

After Krasniqi’s big basket, the Falcons called timeout with 4.7 seconds left and designed a play for Blackwell to catch the ball near the top of the key and either swing it to Lantz or Tapscott racing up either wing for a possible game-winning 3-pointer, or Blackwell to turn and drive.

But Blackwell fumbled Leif Heltzel’s sizzling pass and it went to Krasniqi, who calmly sealed the win.

The Falcons, Eagles and Cougars -- who finished the regular season as tri-champions -- are all expected to open play in the Region II tournament next Tuesday, with FHS and KRHS competing in Division 3, and LHS in Division 4.

But Frazer said the win was huge because it greatly enhanced Liberty’s seeding.

“This was a big relief for me. If we lost, we could be a No. 5 seed, now it’s possible to be a No. 1.”

Brizzi seemed to take the loss hard, but remains upbeat. “We’re glad to be playing one more game, and maybe one more after that,” he said.
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